The goddess Sekhmet is one of the most significant goddesses of Ancient Egypt. The goddess usually represents a leonine deity. The symbol depicts her as a woman with the head of a lion. Her name translates to “Powerful.” Moreover, it translates as “The Female Powerful One.”
One can find the history of Ancient Egypt sprinkled with several lores of the god Ra. Sekhmet is the daughter of Ra. She is not only a warrior goddess but is also the goddess of healing. The pharaohs revered Sekhmet as their protector. It said that the goddess led the kings in matters of warfare.
The name Sekhmet comes from the Ancient Egyptian word sḫm, which means “power or might.” Sekhmet’s ancient Egpyptoian name translates to “the (one who is) powerful or mighty.”
Moreover, the ancient Egyptians gave goddess titles such as “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles” “Mistress of Dread.” Additionally, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls” also refer to Sekhmet.
Powers of Sekhmet
Ancient Egyptians considered Sekhmet as the daughter of the sun god Ra. The famous Eye of Ra is the vengeful manifestation of Ra’s power. Sekhmet was among the more important goddesses who acted as the Eye of Ra. Lores tells the tale of Sekhmet’s ability to breathe fire. Moreover, people compared the hot winds of the desert to her breath.
Egyptians believed that the goddess could cause plagues. These plagues were called her servants or messengers. However, people called Sekhmet to ward off diseases too.
The story of Sekhmet and Ra
A legend tells the tale of Ra and Sekhmet. In the form of Sekhmet, Ra sent the goddess Hathor near the end of Ra’s rule on the earth. Ra sent Sekhmet to destroy mortals who dared to conspire against Ra.
Sekhmet led a bloody battle. Subsequently, she destroyed almost all humanity. However, according to the myth, the goddess’ blood-lust was not satisfied at the end of the battle. It made other gods beg Ra to stop Sekhmet before she destroyed the entire human race.
To prevent this, Ra used a beer that the god had. The beer was dyed with a red colour or hematite to attract Sekhmet’s attention. The goddess mistook the beer for blood and drank the entire vat. Later on, the dyed beer caused Sekhmet to become sleepy, and she gave up slaughter. The goddess woke in Ra peacefully.
The prognosis text of the Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days of papyrus Cairo 86637 also describes this myth. However, there are other variants of the tale too. In some versions, Sekhmet grew angry at the deception and left Egypt. It diminished the power of the sun. Moreover, this threatened the strength and security of the world.
Hence, the god Toth persuaded the goddess to return. Sekhmet returned and restored the sun to its full glory. Sekhmet was also the wife of the god Ptah and mother to his son Nefertum. Moreover, the goddess was also said to be the mother of a lion god, Maahes.
Iconography and Symbolism
The icon of a fierce lioness depicts Sekhmet. In art, the goddess represents a woman with the head of a lioness. She often wears red robes, the colour of blood. Usually, the dress she wears showcases a rosetta pattern over each breast. That pattern is an ancient leonine motif that traces back to observing the shoulder knot hair on lions.
However, sometimes Sekhmet was portrayed in her statuettes and engravings with minimal clothing or nakedness. Even in her death, the royal stand of the coffin represented Sekhmet as a protector. The ancient Egyptians depicted her in all the images of the embalming rite. It shows her head, the characteristic tufted tail and her feet. In the tombs, one finds the coffins placed on them.
Renowned statues of Sekhmet
According to estimations, more than seven hundred statues of Sekhmet once stood in a single funerary temple alone. The temple of Amenhotep III on the west bank of the Nile is one of them. Moreover, one can find a granite statue of Sekhmet in the National Museum, Copenhagen. The statue dates back to 1402-1365 B.C.
The Atles Museum In Berlin has an image from a ritual Menat necklace. It depicts a ritual performed before a statue of Sekhmet. She rests on her throne, flanked by the goddess Wadjet and the goddess Nekhbet. They represent a cobra and a white vulture, respectively. Moreover, two ladies depict the symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt. The supplicant holds a complete Menat and a Sistrum for the ceremony.
Worship of Sekhmet
The beginning of the year welcomed an annual festival every year—the celebration of intoxication. Hence, the Egyptians danced and played music to soothe the wild nature of the goddess. They drank significant quantities of wine to mimic the extreme drunkenness that stopped the goddess of wrath. Moreover, this may also relate to averting excessive flooding of the Nile. During the beginning of every year during the inundation, the Nile ran blood-red with the silt from upstream.
An archaeologist, Betsy Bryan, with John Hopkins University, excavated the temple of Mut in Luxor. In 2006, she presented her findings of a festival. This festival included illustrations of the priestess getting served excess wine and its adverse effects on temple attendants.
The illustrations showed significant participation, including the priestess and the population. There are historical accounts of tens of thousands attending the celebration. Archaeologists made these findings in the temple of Mut. When Thebes rose to prominence, Mut absorbed some characteristics of Sekhmet. Moreover, temple excavations at Luxor discovered a “porch of drunkenness” built by pharaoh Hatshepsut during her twenty-year reign.
Sekhmet remains a powerful and fierce goddess from Ancient Egypt. One can see several references sprinkled throughout history that indicate the power of Sekhmet.